Monday, January 24, 2005

A thimble of wine with your dressing-free salad?

In NYC, smoking is banned in bars. This leads to big crowds forming, of smokers and their non-smoking buddies, in front of each bar, making it impossible to walk down the street at night in the Village without navigating your way through a horde of drunks. But of course, part of the fun of the Village at night is navigating your way through a horde of drunks, so perhaps not so much has changed.

Now it has: Excessive drinking has been pegged at more than two drinks for a man and more than one for a woman, and it seems that NYC is up to its ears in excessive drinkers. And excessive is, of course, a bad thing.

After 32 percent of excessive drinkers in Greenwich Village and Chelsea comes Gramercy Park and the Upper East Side (25.6 percent); the Upper West Side (23.5 percent); Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope (22.2 percent); and Union Square and Lower Manhattan (22.1 percent).

This definition of excess confuses me. Two or three drinks are excessive, sure, if one is thinking about driving, but in the neighborhoods mentioned above, it's easy enough to find public transportation. The definition of excessive drinking parallels the one former NYT restaurant critic (and former U of Cer) William Grimes encounters when attempting to follow the new federal dietary guidelines. Grimes, who says he is thin and healthy, nevertheless found that it took some major dietary changes to get his regular eating habits to fit those currently recommended. Grimes stresses the impracticality of the dietary guidelines (which he cannot get himself to follow), and I'd imagine that the drinking guidelines currently being employed are equally unrealistic. A couple sharing a bottle of wine on a date is guilty of excessive drinking, as is a man who has three beers over several hours at a party. A woman who, in the course of a meal, has a pre-dinner or after-dinner drink, as well as a glass of wine with dinner, has also apparently crossed the line.

While drinking below the "excess" level, and, of course, not drinking at all, are viable options, the less-than-one-or-two rule ought to be looked at as an ideal to strive for, not as a hard-and-fast line past which one becomes just another statistic. I am not against the existence of eating or drinking guidelines, and do think there's something to be gained by having an understanding of what's very harmful, what's a little bit harmful, and what's fine. But to get all smug and Jane Brody-esque, looking down on those consumers of full-fat cheese (Argh! Got four varieties currently in the fridge.) and on anyone who ever says, "I'll have another," can easily cross the line from helpful nudging to an unnecessary shoving down other people's throats of certain "ideals" that, while ideal in general, may not work for many healthy individuals. Because what ends up happening is, someone reads that a hamburger and three beers will do them in, so they think, "What's the harm in another burger plus a six-pack? I'm already done for."

1 comment:

Maureen said...

I don't even drink and I realize those are ridiculous figures. Are guidelines slowly sinking into self-parody?

Perhaps a foodie advocacy group could hold a wine and cheese party in front of FDA headquarters?